Five times in the history of the earth nearly all life has winked out, the planet undergoing a series of changes so massive that the overwhelming majority of living species died. These great extinctions are so exceptional they even have a catchy name: the Big Five. Today seven out of ten scientists believe that we are in the middle of the sixth. But there is one thing that distinguishes those past die-offs from the one we are currently constructing: never before have humans been there to tell the tale. The language we use to narrate our experience in the world can awaken in us the knowledge that transformation is both necessary and ongoing. When we say the word tupelo we begin to see that both the trees themselves and the very particular ecology they once depended upon are, at least where they are rooted, gone.
Sometimes a key arrives before the lock. Now I am thinking, sometimes the password arrives before the impasses. These words, when spoken or written down, might grant us entry into a previously unimaginable awareness— that the coast, and all the living beings on it, are changing radically.
from Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush (Milkweed Editions)